My fifteen best reads of 2018

Usually, my list of ‘best reads’ is whittled down to ten, but I must be getting better at choosing books to read and to share with you. The books aren’t necessarily new, but they’re the very best of what I read last year, and every one was enjoyable, valuable and did my soul or mind good.

#15 — Christians Get Depressed Too
David P. Murray (Reformation Heritage, 112 pages, 2010)

This brief book is ideal for Christians who want a better understanding of the roles of the spiritual, the physical and the psychological in depression and anxiety. In six short chapters, Murray guides us away from extremes and to a balanced, biblical position that helps sufferers and carers understand depression, its causes, and what can be done to help. I’ve bought several copies to give away.

#14 — Forgotten Voices of the Great War
Max Arthur (322 pages, Ebury Press, 2002)

A powerful collection of memories of ordinary men and women who survived World War 1. If you can, listen to the audiobook — rather than being read by a narrator, it contains original audio recordings of the soldiers themselves.

#13 — The Secret Barrister
Anonymous (Pan Macmillan, 384 pages, 2018)

A fast-paced and comprehensive look at our criminal justice system from the perspective of a jobbing barrister. It mixes personal anecdotes with extracts from official reports to communicate complex issues with verve and authority. Every Christian should care about justice, and this book shines a light onto the failings of our legal system and the effect on those trapped in it. However, it is merely the case for the prosecution: problems are amplified, successes minimised, and answers are somewhat one-sided. Nonetheless, it’s thoughtful, entertaining, passionate, provocative, and at times moving.

#12 — America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation
Grant Wacker (Harvard University Press, 448 pages, 2014)

America’s Pastor looks at the relationship between Billy Graham and the United States. It’s well-written, seems fair, and is comprehensive and well-researched. Three things struck me. First, the vital importance of Graham’s character, particularly his humility. Second, his ability and desire to bring the gospel not just to anyone but everyone. And third, God’s timing in raising the right man at the right time.

#11 — Dangerous Calling
Paul David Tripp (Crossway Books, 140 pages, 2012)

A devastating exposé of the dangers in the pastor’s heart. Not every pastor will be susceptible to all these dangers, but every pastor is at risk from some. Tripp’s answer is simple, profound and powerful — we must return to and rest on the Gospel, and be in awe of God. Essential reading for everyone in pastoral ministry.

#10 — Echoes of Exodus
Alastair J. Roberts and Andrew Wilson (Crossway Books, 176 pages, 2018)

Echoes of Exodus shows how the exodus theme keeps reoccurring through Scripture. But that simple description doesn’t do justice to an extraordinary book. The chapters are short and accessible, yet there’s fresh thinking on every page. Recommended for anyone who knows their Bible well enough to know there’s plenty they haven’t yet discovered.

#9 — No God but One: Allah or Jesus?
Nabeel Qureshi (Zondervan, 320 pages, 2016)

A helpful primer on Islam, written by a former Muslim. If you’ve read Qureshi’s spiritual journey, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (which I highly recommend), you know what to expect: a thoughtful, personal and very readable comparison of Christianity and Islam. It’s not only a powerful apologetic for Christianity, but will also help Christians understand how Muslims tend to comprehend both their own faith and Christianity.

#8 — Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis
Michael Ward (Oxford University Press, 347 pages, 2008)

Michael Ward demonstrates a hidden theme within the Narnia Chronicles. That key doesn’t change the message of the Chronicles, but it certainly enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of them as I re-read them. (I stopped after each chapter to read the Narnia book under discussion.) If (like me) you’re not used to literary criticism I’d suggest reading Ward’s more popular The Narnia Code first.

#7 — The Unseen Realm
Michael S. Heiser (Lexham Press, 413 pages, 2015)

The Unseen Realm is a scholarly but relatively accessible biblical theology of the supernatural worldview of the Bible. Among much else, it tackles some of the most perplexing and difficult texts in the Bible (such as Genesis 6:1-4 and 1 Peter 3:18-22) and puts forward a single idea that makes good sense of nearly all of those texts and the Bible as a whole. When I’m reading a book, I highlight in red sections that I disagree with, and The Unseen Realm has more red highlighting than any other book I’ve finished. So why was it a favourite? Simply because there aren’t many books whose ideas won’t stop popping into my head and have ended up back on my ‘Must read’ pile within months of first reading them. Perfect for a discerning reader who wants a theological challenge.

#6 — Lives From a Black Tin Box
Prudence Bell (Authentic Media, 280 pages, 2014)

I bought this book after reading a summary in the March/April 2016 edition of the Magazine. In it, Prudence Bell tells the moving story of her missionary ancestors who were caught up in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion in 1900. A quite astonishing tale.

#5 — Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture
David P. Murray (Crossway, 208 pages, 2017)

A valuable book for anyone who feels there aren’t enough hours in the day. Murray’s practical and straightforward advice teaches us to slow down and live a sustainable pace before we burn out. It’s aimed at Christian men and has frequent additional application to those in ministry. I found it incredibly helpful. A companion volume (Refresh) is aimed at women.

#4 — None Like Him
Jen Wilkin (Crossway, 176 pages, 2016)

Jen Wilkins considers ten of God’s incommunicable attributes (ways in which he’s not like us) and shows why that is a good thing. She also shows how we tend to usurp God’s uniqueness by trying to do what only he can do. It’s a powerful combination: deep theology, devotional reflection and conscience-pricking application. The result is the most practical book of theology I’ve ever read.

#3 — Christ-Centered Preaching
Bryan Chapell (Baker, 448 pages, 2005)

Recently I was astonished to discover that it was twenty years since I first went to Bible college. Time flies — and it was high time for a refresher! Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching delivers on the title. It’s an excellent textbook, suitable both for seminary students and old hands who realise they’ve still got lots to learn. It can occasionally be a little wooden, but Chapell fills page after page with helpful, sage advice that leaves plenty of room for different gifts and personality. I will return to this again and again.

#2 — Crossway ESV Bible Atlas
John D. Currid and David P. Barrett (Crossway, 352 pages, 2010)

Beautiful maps, photographs and illustrations, combined with a thorough telling of the history and geography of the biblical world, which together makes for a compelling read. If you don’t already have a Bible atlas, this is the one to get.

#1 — What Grieving People Wish You Knew
Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 192 pages, 2016)

A powerful and practical book that will help you know what to say (and not to say) when friends or family members experience bereavement. It’s written from personal experience (two of Guthrie’s children died in infancy) and with a pastoral heart. Scattered through the book are dozens of anecdotes from others who have experienced grief, often describing loving acts of kindness from friends. They prove that simple gestures from a Christ-centred soul can make the world of difference to the broken-hearted. Read this before you need it, and you’ll soon be very thankful you did.

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